John Buckeridge reports on the trend to serve Christ outside the walls of the church building

In only two years, the number of Christianity readers that are actively involved in serving their local community has risen from a quarter to a third. For me, that’s the most significant trend to come out of our Reader Survey.

Here are two people I know who are part of that statistic:

Joyce smiles and shrugs when you ask her old she is. My best guess is 75 but I could be ten years out either way. Her skin is wrinkled and thin. She looks fragile and tired, but her sense of fun and creativity make her younger in spirit than most 40-somethings I know. That’s probably one of the reasons why teenage girls in the local high school like to talk to Joyce. Once a week she joins other volunteers to run a 90-minute session with a group of girls who have low self-esteem or are considered by the head teacher to be vulnerable or troubled. Some of the girls are persistent truants and in danger of dropping out of mainstream education, others are bullies, some self-harm, many are binge drinkers. Joyce talks to them, plays games, cooks, offers advice when asked, but mostly listens and befriends. Joyce loves the girls and the feelings are reciprocated.

Peter runs his own catering business. Most Saturday nights, at the end of a tiring week, when others are winding down and relaxing, he joins others from churches across the town to walk along streets which house the most popular pubs and clubs. Peter picks up empty beer bottles from the gutters and bins them – reducing litter, but crucially removing potential weapons in drunken brawls. He helps vulnerable people, disorientated by drink or drugs, to get home safely, he talks to doormen and helps diffuse tension and fights. A non-smoker himself, he carries a cigarette lighter with him, which has provided a bridge into many conversations. It is usually gone 3am by the time he heads home.

Joyce and Peter are two of a growing army of Christians who are serving Christ by ministering into their local communities. Taking their faith outside the walls of a church, they are two of the tens of thousands of stories that could be told each week.

Church without walls has a long history back to the founding of our faith, but initiatives like Hope08 have reminded us of this legacy of community service. As church leaders encourage and release their congregation, more salt and light are spread into needy places. As a result, deeply held suspicions that the church is only interested in getting bums onto pews and souls into heaven are being dispelled.

As we do this, the church stops being irrelevant and hidden away. It becomes reminiscent of 500 years ago, when church was central to life. A time when everyone looked to the church for education, medical care, shelter, agricultural best practice, justice and hope. We report on the reinvention of this old model at the Oasis Academy in Enfield (p38) which is so much more than just a school.

Although churches and Christians in the UK get it wrong often – something this magazine can and does report – there is also much that is good and worth celebrating. The Peters and the Joyces are making a massive difference in our land. What’s more, and not before time, secular authorities are noticing. In the months to come I look forward to publishing more stories of church without walls – about people like you and me serving and making a difference in our community.